Study Finds Mother’s Affection at Infancy Predicts Emotional Distress in Adulthood. A study by DGHI member Joanna (Asia) Maselko found that infants who are shown motherly affection are better able to cope with life stressors as adults. Published today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, these findings suggest that early nurturing and warmth have long-lasting positive effects on mental health well into adulthood. Despite growing interest in the role of early life experiences in adult health
and the long-standing theory that suggests a mother’s interaction with a child has implications for adulthood, few studies have tracked participants from childhood to adult life. Led by Maselko, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, the study presents longitudinal data with assessments of nurturing behaviour during infancy and sustained follow-up ascertaining the quality of adult functioning. The study included 482 participants who were part of the US Providence Rhode Island birth cohort of the National Collaborative Perinatal Project. The quality of their interactions with their mothers at the age of 8 months was objectively rated by a psychologist during routine developmental assessment. At the end of each session, the psychologist completed an assessment of how well the mother had coped with her child’s developmental tests and how she had responded to the child’s performance. The amount of affection and attention she gave to her child was also categorised, with descriptors ranging from “negative” to “extravagant.” Study authors subsequently followed up with the children at the average age of 34 to assess their mental health, levels of anxiety and hostility, and general levels of distress. The authors found that mothers who
were most affectionate at the 8-month assessment were associated with adult offspring who showed significantly lower levels of distress, anxiety and hostility. The strongest association was with the anxiety subscale. This pattern was seen across all the various elements: the higher the mother’s warmth, the lower the adult’s distress. Based on their findings, the authors reaffirm the assertion that even very early life experiences can influence adult health. High levels of maternal affection are likely to facilitate secure attachments and bonding, say the authors. This not only lowers distress, but may also enable a child to develop effective life, social, and coping skills, which will stand them in good stead as adults. Joanna (Asia) Maselko, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Maselko’s research uses a developmental and social epidemiological approach to disentangle social, psychological, and biological influences on both religiosity and health in an effort to better understand the causal processes leading to health outcomes. She is especially interested in how gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status shape the relationship
between religious engagement/spirituality and health. Dr. Maselko recently received a grant from the NIMH to work with data from the National Collaborative Perinatal Project (NCPP) birth cohort to examine how religious involvement changes over the life course and how this lifetime trajectory of religiosity is associated with risk of psychopathology. The findings have so far revealed significant heterogeneity in the direction and strength of association between religious engagement and psychopathology across different disorders, lifetime patterns of religious activity, and genders. Dr. Maselko is also the PI of a study on Religious Social Capital which aims to better understand the dynamics between community and religious forms of social capital and how they may influence health related outcomes, especially in disadvantaged communities. Another area of research focuses on the social and economic determinants of mental health, especially suicide, in South Asia. In this context, Dr. Maselko has conducted research on women’s empowerment in Bangladesh, socioeconomic disadvantage and suicide in Goa, India, and is currently conducting a study exploring the connections between negative life events, debt, spiritual coping and mental health in Karnataka, India. news from: Duke University Medical Center duke.edu
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